Mass producing instructions

One of the most annoying things about teaching many sections using an LMS is that instructions must be repeated in so many places. Partly this is because people forget from one week to the next what the instructions are, so proximity of instructions to a specific task is necessary. And we all know that students do better when instructions are repeated and reminded in at least three places.

But what happens when you want to change instructions for a particular kind of assignment?

For example, I have a set of writing instructions, one each for Writing Assignments I, II, and III. When I want to change instructions for these, I have to go into Canvas and change them one at a time. Well, that’s only three sets of instructions each for five classes, and I can cut and paste.

But I realized I wanted to change instructions for a weekly assignment, my annotation discussion. That’s 16 times for each class. I wanted all of them changed to say:

Let’s add depth to our sources, and help everyone understand them. Some ideas for how to do this:

  • at least one person should highlight the thesis or main point of each document, or speculate on what it might be if it isn’t obvious
  • post a question or two where appropriate in the document (use the question mark on your comment, or use @ to get someone’s attention)
  • answer the questions of others
  • select something you found confusing or fascinating, look it up, and tell us about what you found
  • find aspects of the primary source that seem to connect to the textbook and lecture, and tell us how they connect
  • use the picture tool to add visual sources or illustrate a point

Since this is a discussion, entries which respond, enlighten, or clarify earn more points (the phrase “I agree” is specifically disallowed!).

Comments need not be long – it’s more important to annotate throughout the document (with comments in many different areas throughout the various documents), discuss with colleagues, and make connections.

So I started doing that for 16 weeks of discussion in a course, copying and pasting for each instance. When I was done, I had to do it for the next class, and suddenly I thought, wait a minute. Why not use a web page and embed it? So I made a web page with the instructions in Dreamweaver. Then I pasted this code in the Canvas assignment:

<p><iframe src=”https://lisahistory.net/pages/docdisc.htm” width=”90%” height=”360px”></iframe></p>

I can embed it anywhere, even here:

The reason to do this isn’t just to save pasting something 16 times, since I still have to paste this 16 times. But I only have to change it 16 times once, if you follow me. If my instructions change next semester (or if I decide I forgot to add something now), I just change it on the web page, and it changes everywhere. So I’m doing it for all instructions for all assignments.

*Now, to do this sort of thing exactly as I did, you need to make a web page and serve it. But you could do it in a Google Doc, and have Google serve it for you, by sharing your Doc and using the code I shared in my recent post, which looks the same but with a Google Doc URL, like this:

<iframe src=”https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VPObOkwoBVM5GVXgXCbdKU48Cs_ZRnS-ZJLIpZYMNJE/edit?usp=sharing?embedded=true&rm=minimal&headers=false” width=”99%” height=”360px”></iframe>

I just don’t like it because you can’t really prevent scrolling easily.

Embedding Google Doc in Canvas with extras

Last year I began creating all my syllabuses in Google Docs and embedding them in Canvas.

It was possible then to just take the URL of your Doc, and put it into an iframe, with any extras you like. I liked to remove the ruler and navigation at the top of the Doc (rm=minimal), remove the headers (headers=false) and set the width and height (width 99%, height 1200px). It was working fine, and looked like this:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/165o30E5jiFE2zUBecH6kZL3D3eTs3Dnmal8K80P8bvY/edit?rm=minimal&headers=false" width="99%" height="1200px"></iframe>

Well, now something (Canvas or Google) won’t let that happen, and you must follow the instructions for publishing your Doc to the web. Here are instructions from Tufts. Trouble is, that gives you the set iframe code to paste in, but you don’t have the extras. So here’s how I added them.

What Google publishing gave me was this:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vSpS0g-4SIpMzCvSRpukiKFPX5T5PDh9Xv9uo_8d3bNyBQ5ZodmqnYoRKjTFIaZQpqr8F9yJbnVlaj-/pub?embedded=true"></iframe>

Here are the changes I made:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vSpS0g-4SIpMzCvSRpukiKFPX5T5PDh9Xv9uo_8d3bNyBQ5ZodmqnYoRKjTFIaZQpqr8F9yJbnVlaj-/pub?embedded=true&rm=minimal&headers=false" width="99%" height="1200px"></iframe>

Unfortunately, this wasn’t good because “publishing” a Doc in Google freezes it somehow, and doesn’t always include the images or proper formatting. Also, I couldn’t edit the Doc from inside Canvas, which is nice to be able to do.

The better solution was to use Share rather than Publish. In the Doc, click on Share, and copy the “get shareable link” URL. Then put it into the iframe code:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MN8nGYzZvXOmOmfAPvfkAzPTm82bz1VFVpUiiI55xlc/edit?usp=sharing?embedded=true&rm=minimal&headers=false" width="99%" height="1200px"></iframe>

 

 

I also provide a link, of course, for easier printing.

 

(Updated post)

 

The ed tech dream is dead

As if regular old political news weren’t bad enough, we must make connections between the behemoths of technology and the decline of enthusiasm for web-based educational technology and online learning in general. The conclusions are not inspiring.

As you know if you read my blog, I essentially gave up on web-based apps for my students a couple of years ago, and have moved all my class activity to the Canvas system or a Canvas-based LTI within that system (with the exception of one Honors blog).

As the author of Insidious Pedagogy, this has been a painful, soul-searching path leading to closing my classes. Since the beginnings (I started teaching online in 1998), I have encouraged faculty to put their pedagogy first, to find ways to force the technologies to do what you want. As an early fan of pedagogies that emphasize constructivism and connectivism, I have experimented with many formats (contract grading, connectivist learning, open blogging). If you’ve heard of Ning, Glogster, Dellicious, Blip,tv, Blabberize, Elgg, Eyejot, GoAnimate, Lingr, Mind42, MyPlick, Overstream, Plotagon, Plupper, Screenr, Slideshare, Trialmeme, and Posterous, you have some idea of what I’ve tried.

My college went over to Canvas in the wave of California Community Colleges who’d been made an offer we couldn’t refuse. As California began to standardize its online college education, mass media began to cover the concerns I’d had all along about student privacy and exposure in online environments. I no longer had any arguments to answer those who objected to students working on the open web, even as the web was closing.

So whatever else Facebook and Google have done (and none of it struck me as exceptional or unusual), they have underlined my concerns about students working openly, and undermined public confidence in living portions of our lives on the web. We were so concerned about not being sold by Learning Management Systems that we were sold by the very providers who gave us freedom.

Educators who persist in using social media for the classes are not just outliers in ed tech anymore – they are now collaborators in the dissemination and sale of student information and data. Stalwarts who object to online teaching and web-based learning can now say, “see? it isn’t safe!” Anything not in a protected, encrypted, controlled system is rightly suspect.

We’ve lost, and to me that has meant not only abandoning my own open classwork and my own research in educational trends but a return to subversion inside the system.

My pedagogical focus now is creating encouraging environments and meaningful tasks for students that take advantage of system-based automation while allowing for freedom of pursuits. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in ed tech — Canvas forces me to take my place as a nobody functionary, a foot soldier following orders, with limited creativity and continual frustration. It’s one of the worst LMSs ever created, with a “community” deluded into thinking we help improve it. When my head is flat from pounding it against Canvas walls, I try to remind myself it’s like making a movie during the Hays Code.

But doing anything else isn’t moving forward.

Roll call in Canvas

For the first week in every online class, I have an introductory discussion forum. I’ve done many things here (asked for students to talk about themselves, respond to a news story, or discuss videos on being a college student) but the point is for me to know they are actively in the class, that I don’t need to drop them as “no show”s.

The law says that signing in to an online class is not “attendance” – they need to do something. So this is what they do.

rollcall

Since it’s not something I grade, I have had it set up as a forum, and I left unchecked the Graded box. Then this morning, I realized that to contact the students who haven’t posted (it’s due yesterday, the first day of the 8-week term), I’d need to print my roster and mark it manually, or write down the names of the students who hadn’t posted.

Instead, I went back in to the forum, checked “Graded”, made it 0 points, had it graded as Complete/Incomplete, and set the deadline for last night. Then I could go to the dropdown in the Gradebook and message the students who hadn’t done it, all at once.

messagestudentswho

Of course, I also then need to use Speedgrader to mark each one Complete, since Canvas doesn’t really understand what Complete/Incomplete means, or it would mark it automatically. But still, it’s better than manually tracking students!

Canvas and the Impossible Journal

Canvas, of course, does not have x.  In this case, x is a blog or journaling or portfolio function.

Yes, I know you can LTI this, but those never work like they’re supposed to.

Now, if Canvas had real threads, I could use a threaded discussion, with each student controlling their own topic. But Canvas doesn’t have this x either. To do everyone’s journaling on one discussion would thus mean scrolling for days and days…

So, instead, I tried creating a forum for each student, to act as their own space (it’s for an Honors class, so 25 students – not too bad). Then I realized to grade them in Speed(!)Grader would mean opening them one at a time. Every week or so. Ugh.

Second attempt. Create one big forum and but have groups. Put one student per group, and have all the other students peer grade. That way, each student can post on their own, but everyone can still see the posts and comment.

The wonderful Laura Paciorek helped me test it. We became students. Posting to our own forums as our own group went fine. But when we tried to peer grade, we got “unauthorized” warnings when we clicked on anything to see it. And after this humiliation, we were returned to the “group” site, which had its own Home (and everything else) links on the menu — students would be completely lost and unable to get back to the main course page.

I considered peer grading as assignments, but assignments are one-shot deals – you can’t keep going back and adding more, making a portfolio.

I considered each student having their own Page, but you can’t grade Pages, and it’s incredibly easy to wipe out everything on a Page accidentally (been there, done that).

So reluctantly, I checked out Google (OK Google, fix Canvas). Canvas is supposed to be Google-friendly: the Canvas’ “Collaborate” function is a Google Doc, intended to be a single Doc that all students can edit. But I’ve done my research and I know that multiple students working on the same Doc can easily erase each others’ work, because Canvas isn’t Google and can’t actually enable multiple editors at once. Great idea – get a bunch of people already tentative about collaborative editing to engage that little problem!

The Collaboration difficulty was confirmed by the post that gave me my final idea (so far), from Chris Long over at the K-12 Canvas forum: use Google Docs as URL assignments.

So the plan is:

  • Have each student set up their own Google Doc as their journal. It’s one page but if they mess up, they can use the revision history to go back.
  • Assign “journal checks” (I think I’ll make the dates random) where they submit the URL as an assignment. I can use SpeedGrader to see, comment, and grade them all quickly. Laura and I tested and the worst thing that can happen is you have to open a new tab.

Now, the community/peer part. Two options here.

1) I can have these journal check assignments peer reviewed. We tried that, and it’s nice because I can see all the peer review comments in Speed Grader. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to track the peers doing the reviewing.

2) Second option is to have them just comment on each others’ Google Docs. I won’t see this in SpeedGrader, but I could manually grade them a few times during the semester as some kind of participation grade, or use a quiz and have them submit the top five comments they felt were most useful to others (Laura’s using this trick for collaborative note-sharing on a Doc, so I stole it from here).

I’ll keep working on this, but, as Laura pointed out, it’s bizarre to go to all this trouble. Canvas should have a blogging/journaling feature. Canvas should have an option for real threaded discussion. Canvas should have . . .oh, never mind.

UPDATE: 

Laura discovered ePortfolios, which I hadn’t seen because it isn’t in the Canvas course – it resides in the user’s Profile, in the level above the course (like the Inbox). While not as simple as Google, it has its own URL and doesn’t need a separate login.

My use of it would be similar, except that students cannot comment inside each others’ ePortfolio. So I would use a Discussion to ask for a report, and each student would need to post the URL for their portfolio for each check. It would then be an extra click in Speedgrader to grade each one, and I would have to grade students’ own portfolio and their comments on others’ portfolios together, instead of separately.

Tutorials like this one would be needed. And, as with all things Canvas, very specific instructions would need to be given, to dumb down everything as effectively as possible. But ePortfolio allows images and (some) embeddings, and despite its hierarchy (Portfolio – Section – Page) might still work. Thanks, Laura!

The oncoming train

I was almost finished with the roughed out versions of three courses in Canvas, looking toward summer, waiting for the campus installation to open so I can upload them and tinker.

It’s taken me months.

So today I pick up my phone, which I do not use in the profligate way experienced by most Americans, to see how they look on the Canvas app.

None of my images were there.

Now, we’re not just talking a few images. We’re talking 16 images on the Home page, one for each week, in a grid. The same week’s image on the week’s intro page, images to demonstrate many pages in learning units, about 12-15 images in each weekly lecture. They were all broken.

When I switched to my mobile browser, they were all there. I contacted support. He guessed that it could be because my images are all linked from my outside server, all http (not https). I know the difference because I can only embed things from my server if I use the https format. But I had no idea there was a problem displaying images, because they all display just fine in any browser.

But not in the Canvas app. The helper explained that all the browsers are going SSL anyway, so really everything needed to be https. We’re talking hundreds of hours of work, changing every link in hundreds of pages, quizzes, discussions, learning units, all of which have my images. I asked about global search and replace? in a site? No. In a course? No. On a page, for goshsakes? No.

The light at the end of my tunnel had become an oncoming train of work. If I didn’t do it, every course that rolled over in future semesters would similarly not be https, and students won’t see the images in the app.

I began. Several hours copying home pages, search and replace, pasting back in. But single images on single pages were much harder, and mind-deadening. I’m not actually sure I can do this. I considered ways to do it, by week or by item type. I considered making a chart. I considered paying someone else to do it.  I considered early retirement.

I’m still considering. Reasons for doing it include
a. students can use the app on their phones to take the class
b. some day we’re all going over to the encrypted web, which is really what all this is about

Trouble is, I’ve never, ever thought taking a class on your phone was a good idea. Of course, there is the tablet problem. They’re big phones. But although I saw a lot of tablets in the classroom when they first came out, now there are fewer. Laptops seem to be coming back. Gosh knows what they use at home.

Gosh knows what they’ll do when their browsers won’t show them non-secure pages. And how will they post images in my class? This finally explains why students complained they couldn’t see other students’ images in posts on their phones. My whole pedagogy down the drain.

Do I take all this time? I was about to start a research project I really want to do. Do I do link changes slowly over the next several semesters, a constant task hanging over my head? Do I avoid it and hope the encrypted web goes the way of all those programs I built things in, the many that died off after I did so much work? After all, the folks saying we’re all going SSL are the ones who’ll make money off this closing of the open web.

My professional activity survey results came in today, the one where colleagues say what they think of me. One wrote that I am “not afraid of hard work”.

I’m not. But this is ridiculous.

Lisa’s Top 10+ Tips for Canvas

Now that I’ve experienced conversion (including full immersion if not a blinding experience of insight), I offer my tips:

1) Use the calendar, even if just for you

The calendar is drag and drop. You can leave everything without a due date, then set them in the Calendar by opening up the “undated” items menu on the right, and drag them in. Default due time is 11:59 pm, but you can change it.

Also, adding events to the Calendar makes it possible to put ungraded things on the schedule. The most important of these for me is “Begin Week x” so that students know each week starts on Monday after Sunday deadlines.

Notice that everything with a deadline is listed on the syllabus page – this makes a good check once you’ve done the calendar.

You can also export the calendar to Google Calendar and other programs.

2) Use the modules, even if just for you

Modules can organize content, but they also make every item look like it’s of equal weight, so I make it invisible in the menu. But I use it to:

a. lock each week until I want it to open
b. make sure that students complete every item for the week
c. import from a “base course” I set up on the free Canvas – the assignments I have that every class does are created there as modules, which I then import and adjust to the class using the Modules page

3) Don’t embed much

Canvas allows embedding if your page is https, but it doesn’t like to do it and it may look awful. Although I love embedding, it’s actually better to link out even though that grey button is so ugly.p

The exception would be web pages you’ve made yourself, that reside on a secure server, and that don’t have width or height settings. My Help page is one of these, so I embed it.

4) Use small nicknames for graded items

The gradebook is not good yet (they’re working on it). You may only view graded items in order of due date, or type of assignment. If you have a lot of assignments, the gradebook scrolls out of sight pretty quickly. If you use short names at the beginning for each assignment (“WAI Writing Assignment I”), then you can drag the columns smaller and see the big picture much better.

5) Use an “end page” for each module

If you are using Modules (whether or not the student can see them), the last item in a module with always have a “Next” button going to the next page, the first page of the next Module. Students won’t realize they’re done with the module unless you put a page that says something like, “Congratulations for finishing Week 2! If you click Next, you’ll go to Week 3.”

6) Put Announcements at the top

Yes, they get emailed to students and can be accessed through the “Announcements” link on the menu. I get rid of this link, and use the new Setting for the course to have the Announcements show at the top of the Home page.

7) Use rubrics

Although Speed Grader isn’t speedy, it handles rubrics well, and can speed up grading. The trick is to make sure to edit your rubric after you’ve made it, so that you can set each assignment to be graded using the rubric.

8) Let students know how to see comments and rubrics

This is not intuitive. They get assignment submission comments sent to them, but can easily miss them. Similarly, the rubric is available when they do an assignment, but they can miss that too. They are usually interested only when they’ve got a grade, so show them how to access comments and the rubric from their Grades.

canvaswagrading

9) Think a bit about mobile

I don’t always follow this myself – I do tell them they should only use mobile to check grades and assignments, but not to submit things. However, when creating Pages, consider using percentages instead of absolute width and height to make sure the content will shrink to be seen on a phone.

10) Understand the Syllabus page

It has on it a place at the top to add your syllabus (I embed mine as pdf), but the other two elements you can’t remove are the list of all assignments, and the list of weights for each assignment category. This means that you don’t need to add these yourself to your own syllabus.

Special thanks to Robert Kelley and Sean Davis – I learned about the calendar and end page idea from them!

Calendrically speaking

I have always been a big fan of paper calendars. But when it comes to teaching, there are many things I need to put on a calendar that are the same from semester to semester. My solution recently has been creating a spreadsheet calendar, putting in these recurring items (grade primary sources, grade Writing Assignment III, etc), then printing it out and writing in the dates.

After almost three decades working with Microsoft products, I could not figure out how to get the pages to print correctly.

Why do I need such a calendar, when the LMS has its own calendar? For the first time since Blackboard days, I will be teaching in three different systems: MiraCosta’s Canvas (two classes), MiraCosta’s Moodle (four classes), and free Canvas (one class). This is how I will transition from Moodle to Canvas over the next 18 months.

The Canvas and Moodle calendars, plus my own grading calendar, would need to be in the same place to do this electronically. So today I used the URL from the Canvas and Moodle calendars, and put them into Google’s calendar, then added my grading tasks.

Both LMSs, unfortunately, export the full calendar (all classes), not each class – this is a problem because Google imports them all as one calendar, with all tasks in the same color regardless of which class it is. I wanted a separate Google calendar for each class. Luckily, I was able to solve this for Canvas by exporting each course’s calendar from Student View, as recommended by Chris Long in the Canvas Community. There is no way to do this for Moodle, but it didn’t matter, because both sections are of the same class and on the same calendar.

Now I have all tasks in one place, accessible on my phone or on computer.

I’ve never not used a paper calendar of some kind (yes, I know, call me steampunky), so we’ll see how it goes.

Canvas But Cool: Embedding Announcements

I hope to start a series of posts here on things I’m doing in Canvas, but that are cool anyway. Some will be workarounds, some ideas for making things look better, some techniques born out of utter frustration.

None will be as brilliant as what Laura Gibbs is doing at the University of Oklahoma  – she’s got LOL Cats rotating through her Canvas pages using a cool javascript. But her work inspires me and encourages me to find things that are Canvas…But Cool.

My first concerns Announcements. In Moodle (many of my posts will start “In Moodle”, an approach dreaded by many in the Canvas Community) I could just paste Announcements in at the top of the main page, and copy or adapt them into Latest News for instant emailing to all. In Canvas, the Announcements page is decidedly a separate thing. If I don’t want announcements to be the main Home page, they won’t be obvious except by email or other notifications.

But I don’t want to post twice, once in Announcements and once by editing the Home Page. I want the Announcements to dynamically appear on the Home page, where I want them to. So I followed the wonderful instructions posted halfway down this page at the Canvas Community (I’d love to link directly to the post, but you can’t do that there), posted by Sharmaine Regisford with thanks to others.

Instructions:

1. First, post an Announcement in your class (I just did a welcome message).

2. Grab the feed URL for the announcements by going to the Announcements page and right-clicking on the RSS symbol (it won’t be there if you didn’t post a first Announcement).

The URL should end with .atom.

3. Go to FeedWind at http://feed.mikle.com.

4. In the spot, paste in the feed URL.

5. Choose your settings. I like 1 feed height, scrollbar on, autoscroll off, text-only, max length 132 characters.

6. Grab the regular code from the right side, not the iframe code.

7. Start a new text document on your computer and paste the code.

8. Save the file as .html.  

9. Go to Canvas and open Files. Upload the .html file you just created to your Canvas course files. Once it’s there, mouse over the name of it to find the document number – write it down somewhere.

10. Go to the page where you want the Announcements to appear. Switch to HTML editor.

11. Paste this in:

/courses/#######/files/#########/download

In this example the first ####### is your course number and the second ######### is the file number.

The course number is in the URL of your Canvas course:

So for this example, that would be:

/courses/6660/files/57294/download

The result is an iframe on your page that will always show the most recent announcement (so long as you chose that on the settings at FeedWind).

Update: As of this week, Canvas provides the option to add announcements to the top of your home page. Not as pretty, but it works:

You know you’re working in Canvas when…

You start changing the names of assignmentcanvaspss to things like “L1” so you can squeeze the column smaller in the gradebook.

You keep looking for the arrow button on the toolbar because there’s so little available.

You just lost 95% of the custom class syllabus page because you tried to comment out everything after the first week.

You check the boxes on the Import Content page in slow motion because last time you wiped out the whole course.

You search all over the site for the section that lets you allow students to upload files, then find it as an inconspicuous link at the very bottom of the main Settings page.

You look for published images to steal instead of uploading your own because putting in a URL is so much easier than trying to upload, find and embed an image file.canvaslinks

Your idea of hell becomes a place where you’re faced with a list of dark green hyperlinks.

You stop allowing revisions of anything in a forum because SpeedGrader makes finding them impossible.

You give up on the idea of trying to link to a specific post in a forum because it’s too complicated.

You get an eye doctor appointment to deal with not being able to see the blue “unread” dots in the forums.

You spend time on support with your ISP trying to figure out how to create secure web pages so they can be embedded, only to find that the javascript you have on that page won’t work when embedded anyway.

You give up trying to embed SSL web pages and let everything link out.

You get a bad sprain from overusing the scroll wheel.

You start creating things inside the system even though you know better.

You think of the tasks of your life in terms of “Previous” and “Next”.

canvasnext